BBC support for British films 'totally inadequate'

The BBC's investment in British films was criticised yesterday as "totally inadequate". The corporation was warned that it would "never be a significant player" in the country's movie industry unless it increased the level of funding.

The BBC's investment in British films was criticised yesterday as "totally inadequate". The corporation was warned that it would "never be a significant player" in the country's movie industry unless it increased the level of funding.

The two-pronged attack by the UK Film Council, and Pact, the body that represents independent production companies in Britain, was made before a House of Commons select committee. The committee is inquiring into the review of the BBC's charter, which is due for renewal in 2006.

John Woodward, the chief executive of the UK Film Council, told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the BBC's investment of £7m a year in British films was "totally inadequate". He said: "If the BBC does not increase its investment from £7m it does not matter what they do because they will never be a significant player in the British film industry. They will be offering a token amount."

In a submission to the committee, the council said: "The BBC should increase both the number of films it supports and the level of investment in those films. It could and should be doing so much more given its power and centrality as the leading British public service institution."

Although the council acknowledged that the digital channel BBC4 had "created a model which schedules a wider range of films", it said that the BBC had a responsibility to "develop popular yet distinctive UK films" that could be shown on BBC1 at peak times instead of Hollywood blockbusters.

Pact went further and said that the BBC should be allocating 50 per cent of its £73.2m acquisitions budget to British films. Research carried out by David Graham & Associates on behalf of Pact found that £61.5m of this money was spent on American films in 2003-2004, and less than £10m on British movies.

In the same period, BBC1 and BBC2 transmitted 912 films, of which only 180 were British. Of these, 66 per cent were made before 1980.

The only British film shown on terrestrial television last bank holiday Monday was Channel 4's screening of Murder on the Orient Express, starring Albert Finney and Lauren Bacall, and made in 1974.

Pact said that the amount of money spent by the BBC on film production was less than 0.4 per cent of the money generated by the licence fee.

The criticism comes ahead of a planned meeting between the UK Film Council and Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC. It follows a survey by the pollsters TNS, which found that 81 per cent of respondents believed that broadcasters had a responsibility to support the film industry by screening recent British productions.

Billy Elliot, which was funded by the National Lottery, was the most popular film shown on UK television in 2003, attracting an audience of 12.7 million for BBC1.

Three British films shown on ITV1, The World is Not Enough (7.8 million) The Full Monty (7.6 million) and GoldenEye (7.5 million), all featured in the top 10 most popular television movies of last year.

The BBC defended its role in the British film industry, citing a string of releases that may not have been made without the corporation's support.

Successful BBC-assisted projects have included the Oscar-winning Iris, starring Dame Judi Dench, the Bafta-winning Dirty Pretty Things, which highlighted the plight of asylum-seekers in London, Michael Winterbottom's acclaimed In This World, a story of Afghan refugees, and the recently released 17th century drama Stage Beauty.

A corporation spokesman said that by investing in such projects "the BBC has ensured a UK presence at every major film festival and provided much needed investment into the industry". He said that the BBC had also recently acquired hit British films such as Bend it Like Beckham and Calendar Girls for screening on BBC television.

HOW THE INDUSTRY IS FINANCED

  • British films are generally financed in part by government sponsorship and by one of the major television companies.
  • To qualify for lottery funding from the UK Film Council, the film has to be overwhelmingly British and 80 per cent of the cast and crew also have to be British.
  • British Films receive 2.3 per cent of lottery allocation to good causes. The UK Film Council has £25m of lottery money to spend every year on films and almost £13m of this will be spent on film production. On average, for every £1 of lottery funds invested in the production, the UK Film Council will see £9 taken at the box office.
  • Film projects are usually a collaboration of a number of backers. East is East (1999), produced by Assassin Films, is an exception to this as it was fully funded by Film Four and went on to be one of its few successes.
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